Most of you might not know this, but I’m a self-taught calligrapher. I was able to take a course with Eleanor Winters (all hail), but that was after I struggled for a couple of years to teach myself. I must admit that I had experience in Italic and Blackletter when I studied Art in college, but those two styles really did not strike my fancy. Fast forward to 2010, this was the time when I became very much influenced by the beautiful scripts I saw on wedding stationery.
I told myself — you can do this! Remember your Typography class? Piece of cake!
Um, no. The flexible pen used to write scripts is difficult to control, ink was splattering everywhere, a bazillion sheets of paper was wasted. So I did my research and taught myself. During that time, there was no abundance of workshops like what we have now, so I guess ‘struggled’ is an understatement. I went straight to writing letters and sentences, flourishing here and there as I went along. I told myself, you can do this! Write longer words and everything will all fall into place!
Again, no. I realised after a bit more reading and practicing that I need to start at the very beginning. I need to start with the basics, and basics meant drills. Those boring, repetitive loops and strokes that I tried to avoid for as long as I possibly could. There was no escaping it. So I got myself the best book in my possession (after my Harry Potter collection, I suppose) — Eleanor Winters’ Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy. I drew my grids, prepared my workspace, took a deep breath and started writing. And you know what? A few years later, I’m still practicing with drills and have become really fascinated with the rhythm and consistency of the letters I make. These exercises made me write better.
My simple advice? Practice with drills before you actually start writing. Throw in some fun coloured inks to make it more enjoyable (I usually practice with walnut ink). Think of it as a warm up, and would give you the momentum when you finally start writing your project for the day. I’m always looking forward to finishing calligraphy commission works because that means I’d have more time to practice. Have fun writing!